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Here I am popping up with a rare Saturday post because I am a little behind. It is already the New Year and I still have two books from the old year to review. I will try and get those two reviewed and posted next week.

December should have been a month when I could get a lot more reading done – yet I only read 8 books – taking me to the exact number in my Goodreads yearly challenge of 110. A couple of them were fairly chunky, however – and I was pleased to have got two nonfiction Persephone read having read so little nonfiction all year. Two of my December reads made it on to my Twelve books for 2020 list too – so all in all it was a pretty good month.

A quick round up of what I read:

For diverse December I started the month with Plum Bun by Jessie Redman Fauset. It tells the story of Angela Murray – a young very light skinned African American woman who leaving her home in Philadelphia heads to New York where she intends to pass for white.

The first of two BLCC books read in December, A Surprise for Christmas edited by Martin Edwards. A really good collection of festive stories told in a variety of styles.

Having so loved Girls, Woman Other last year, Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo was a book I had looked forward to reading and it really didn’t disappoint at all. In this novel we meet Barrington Jedidiah Walker, or Barry to his friends. His voice is immediately engaging, warm, funny, vulnerable a little defensive and often outrageous – he pulls us into his world. It is just brilliant.

Virago sent me Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain the second of her books I have read. It is fun and farcical and though a little dated in places it’s perfect escapism.

The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak was yet another big hit – the first novel by her I have read. It is a novel of modern Turkey – but with a beautiful, poignant acknowledgement of its history, and the different peoples who make up its population.

A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman is a Persephone book that Liz bought me last year for Christmas. It was the second of my December reads to make it on to that best of list – I just loved it – all about the kinds of books I love, it will remain a wonderful resource.

Crossed the Skis by Carol Carnac – another BLCC mystery and while not a Christmas mystery the story opens on New Year’s Day – and much of the action takes place in a very snowy ski resort – so it felt fairly appropriate reading it a few days before New Year.

London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes is a collection of ‘letters’ MPD wrote to the New Yorker during the Second World war – and charts the progress of the war and people’s reaction to it from 1939 through to May 1945. There is so much of interest in it – and MPD’s voice is wonderful and engaging, however I found it a bit dense for over Christmas and started to get a bit bogged down. Probably due to my ridiculous non-nonfiction brain – I should space out my nonfiction a bit I have found in the past. I found the end of the war entries very poignant however and truly delightful.

So now I am looking ahead to 2021 – and wondering what my lists of books read will look like in a year’s time. I want to keep things fluid – while setting myself a few personal challenges. I don’t believe in forcing things too much – but a few challenges can help widen horizons and has been responsible for taking me out of my VMC/Persephone/DSP comfort zone – and I do think that is a good thing.

In 2020 within my 110 books read, I read 17 books by POC writers – some of these were books by British or American writers writing in English, some from writers from other nations across the globe. Oddly enough, I also read 17 books in translation – there was some crossover but of course they weren’t the same 17 books. So that is just over 15% of my reading – and I would really like to get it nearer or even above 20% in both instances – and I have more than enough on my tbr to achieve it – as well as having recently signed up for another year of the wonderful Asymptote book club – a brilliant fiction in translation subscription. My first book just arrived.

In May I hope to host another Daphne Du Maurier reading week – the last two have been so good. There are however lots of other challenges doing the rounds – I don’t feel up to committing completely and yet I really do want to dip in and out of some. My dear friend Liz is reading all the novels of Anne Tyler in 2021 – two each month -and while I certainly won’t do them all I hope to do a few with her – although sticking to a schedule might be my problem. Cathy at 746 books is celebrating the work of Brian Moore this year too, for his centenary – an author I recently remembered my dad was very fond of. I read my first book by him in 2019 – and have acquired more with my Christmas book vouchers to enable me to join in. I asked on Twitter whether anyone was doing anything for the Patricia Highsmith centenary – but I haven’t found anything – and I can’t commit to running one – especially as I know so little about her. However, it seems to be a fitting time to get to know her work better. So, I have acquired three Patricia Highsmith books with those vouchers to add to the one book I have had tbr for ages. Phew, I might be over stretching myself with all those challenges – but as ever, I will go mainly with my mood! Some of my book voucher acquisitions are pictured below – though several are resting on my invisible tbr – i.e., my kindle

 I am looking forward to some great reading in 2021 though – tell me what fabulous things did you read in December? And what are your reading plans for 2021?

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October has flown by – and I have today arrived home from a week’s self-catering in Devon with my mum – we’re in a bubble. It was wonderful to get out of Birmingham for a little while and to see the sea. Though it is also nice to get home and be on my own again, and I am looking forward to my own bed tonight. My reading continues to be a little slow, though I sped up a little last week, just eight books read this month. While the numbers might not be huge – what I read was very good indeed.

I began the month reading The Last Resort by Pamela Hansford Johnson for Simon and Karen’s 1956 club. She is definitely an underrated writer – and I really enjoyed this complex, subtle novel. I have just bought another of her books to read soon.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid was my book group’s choice for October – and it proved a really good book to discuss. A thought provoking, compelling read into the bargain.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman a much anticipated debut – and it is such an enjoyable witty novel – quite deserving of all the hype. I loved the fact that the main characters are mainly older people.

From the British Library Women Writers series Tea is so Intoxicating by Mary Essex was a novel that was right up my reading alley. When David Tompkins decides to open a tea garden in his village not everyone is happy – including his wife.

I finally got around to reading The Finishing School by Muriel Spark, her final novel, which I bought for my Muriel Spark year of reading in 2018. It is sharp, witty and brings us full circle – showing her still at the height of her powers.

Clash by Ellen Wilkinson is a novel I have been wanting to read for ages – and when I plucked it from the shelf I knew instantly I would love it. Review still to come. A novel about the General Strike of 1926, trade union activism and the labour movement – I found it enthralling.

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth is my book group’s November read which I decided to get on with before November’s reading challenges got in the way. I found it a really good, often unusual read about chickens, animal rights activists and their attempted audacious heist.

As I am writing I am finishing off Rhododendron Pie by Margaery Sharp, Margery Sharp’s first novel famously difficult and expensive to find is being re-issued by the lovely Dean Street Press in January.  They kindly sent me two e-books for review – and I’m afraid I just couldn’t wait to read this one – and I have to say I have enjoyed it very much.

So that was October – and now I am looking ahead to November. In November there are all kinds of reading challenges that can help distract us from everything else that is going on. November is MARM (Margaret Atwood reading month), Novellas in November, Non-fiction November and German Lit month. Phew!!

I am hoping to join in some if not all of these – not sure if I have anything German. However, I do have some Margaret Atwood set aside – and loads of novellas. So, Novellas in November is the challenge I am concentrating on – it is hosted by Bookish Beck and Cathy at 746 books. I may just manage to read more physical books if they are small. Looking through the pile I hastily got together I can see a few non-fiction titles of novella size too – ticking off two challenges. Similarly, I think I have decided to re-read Surfacing by Margaret Atwood – I can barely remember a thing about it – and its size make it perfect for Novellas in November. I am nothing though, if not a fickle reader, so I may not just read novellas – though I do have a fabulous selection to choose from.

What did you read in October? Are you joining in with any of these reading events?

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A quick Tales from the tbr post this time, and my last of 2018. Pictured above my tbr as it is today – pretty chaotic and untidy – I went mad a few days ago looking for something and that was the result. There are almost as many books behind the ones in front – which makes finding things difficult.

I am currently juggling like mad – well that’s how it feels. The last couple of weeks have been busy as work, and what with several nights out, busy weekends and Christmas shopping to be done I have found reading and blogging harder to fit in.

I still have three books left in my A Century of Books – well I will have later this evening when I finish my current read The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy for 1964 – such a good book.

While I really should be writing up reviews – my thoughts have turned to reading challenges for 2019 – and, well I am not really doing them – much.

Having spent 2018 juggling two big reading challenges; #ReadingMuriel2018 and A Century of Books – 2019 will give me chance to get my tbr in order (feint hope) and read what I want to. I think I shall end the year almost where I started in terms of the number of books tbr – which is pretty dreadful – not all books have been bought – I do get given books, ( a friend passed one on to me just a few hours ago) I’m sent books and pick some up through bookcrossing, but many, too many have been bought and I need to rein it in somehow. Financially, I need to get a grip on my book spending – and though I am not setting a target or anything – because I will immediately fail – I will be buying fewer books. I have so many wonderful books already – and will no doubt score a few more over Christmas. They are enough to keep me busy.

IMG_20181216_165235.jpgHowever, although I am not hosting any big challenges in 2019 – I am sort of responsible for a little read-a-long in January of Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym. Back in 2013, leading up to Barbara Pym’s centenary I started a little FB group – The Barbara Pym virtual tea party – a place for like minded Pym fans to celebrate the day share pics etc. I assumed the group would fade out after her birthday in the June. It didn’t. People have continued to join. I realised I was the most useless FB group admin ever – never posting, taking weeks to approve new members, and so to make up for it, I suggested a little group read-a-long in January. It proved a popular idea, so we will be reading Some Tame Gazelle in the second half of the month (no strict timetable – I can never be bothered with those). Pym will be fairly sure to brighten up a gloomy month – and this early Pym is a classic. If you feel like it, join in.

I will happily join in other reading weeks/months/club events as I usually do, I’m just not organising anything myself or committing to anything big. Let me know of any that has passed me by – I know about the tbr busting ones but have decided not to sign up to any of those.

For several years the Librarything Virago group have had a monthly reading event. The last two years each month has been dedicated to a particular VMC author. In 2019 we will be reading the 1940s – I think there will be some themes within that for each month – details are being worked out by members as we speak. I think most of us will stick to VMC and Persephone books – but as it is a period I love – and I will have plenty of books already to fit – I am sure to be joining in quite a lot, I like the flexibility of being able to dip in and out.

So, I am a little behind in my reviews but hope to get one or two out this week, and maybe even Christmas week as well. Next up to be reviewed, The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay and Stet by Diana Athill – and my current read of course.

I never do my books of the year post till right at the end of the year – when everyone is probably heartily sick of those kinds of posts. There is still plenty of time to read something that simply has to make the list – and so I haven’t even started compiling it yet.

How will your New Year be for challenges?

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Virginia woolf2We do love our challenges don’t we – but it simply isn’t possible to join in everything. My #Woolfalong will continue all year of course with people dropping in and out as suits them. The first phase has a couple of weeks to go – and I have enjoyed it enormously. Lots of people using the hashtag and joining in the conversation on Twitter – long may it continue. I have a separate page on my blog with details of the schedule – and will post a short round up/discussion post toward the end of each two month period.

There are though, a couple of other reading events coming up that I really want to join in with – most of you will probably know about them already.

In March Cathy at 742 books is co-hosting Reading Ireland Month,( also known as #Begorrathon16) when I stopped to think about it – I have two Anne Enright, a William Trevor two Elizabeth Bowen and several Molly Keane books tbr – whether or not I manage to read more than one remains to be seen. You can read more about the event over on Cathy’s blog and that of her co-host Raging Fluff. readingirelandmonth

Last year Simon and Karen brought us the 1924 club – what a fabulous idea – to have people reading a variety of books all first published in 1924. In April this year we will have the 1938 club. I know I have at least two books from that year tbr – as well as a number of books from 1938 I could re-read. The 1938 club will take place from 11th – 17th April – the week following my own next reading event.1938club

At the risk of boring you all senseless about Mary Hocking, having posted a Mary Hocking review just a couple of days ago – I wanted to give you a bit of warning about the next Mary Hocking reading week. For the last two years, my Mary Hocking reading event was in June, June had no significance at all it was just a month I plumped for. However I didn’t feel June was the best fit this year – Bello are bringing out twelve Mary Hocking books in a couple of weeks’ time, and Mary’s birthday was April 8th.

Mary Hocking reading week

So I have decided to have Mary Hocking reading week April 3rd – 9th. Now for those of you joining in Karen and Simon’s 1938 (April 11th-17th) it might be a bit of a squeeze – but I know lots of you voracious readers out there will manage both – I certainly intend to. Perhaps those of you who haven’t been able to join in with reading Mary Hocking week in the past will be able to take advantage of the lovely new Bello editions available as print on demand editions or as ebooks, the ebooks especially good value.

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20booksofsummer

As many of you will already know Cathy has launched a brilliant summer reading challenge. The challenge; is simply to read 20 books between 1st June and the 4th September. I hope I can read 20 books between now and then (especially as I started a week late), it should be easy enough but I am very conscious that I am reading much slower than I usually do – so I felt I needed a little pick me up challenge. Those of you on Twitter, can follow the hashtag #20booksofSummer and similar to the #TBR20 earlier in the year will be able to see everyone’s pretty piles of books and updates on reading progress. I joined in #TBR20 too, but the trouble with building up a lovely big pile of books and photographing it, is that immediately I stop wanting to read the books on it. So following advice from other participants I am creating my 20 books of summer pile in sections. I wasn’t sure whether to choose five or ten books for my first pile, so, just to be different I chose eight. On the day I decided to take up this challenge earlier this week, I was already part way through what became my first book; the appropriately named Summer will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner. The first eight of my twenty are (in order they appear in the picture):

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1 The silver Spoon – John Galsworthy ( I have ditched my fat paperback copies for a kindle version) – currently reading
2 Watership Down – Richard Adams (book group choice)
3 Heat Lightning by Helen Hull
4 Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
5 Road Ends by Mary Lawson
6 Mr Harrison’s Confessions by Elizabeth Gaskell
7 Circles of Deceit by Nina Bawden
8 Summer will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner

My idea is that after I have finished those eight books – I shall pick another pile – and so on. The only book on the above pile I am unsure about is Watership Down. Picked by one of my book groups as our June read I shall need to read it in the next two weeks – and although I know I enjoyed it goodness only knows how many years ago – I’m not at all sure how I feel about talking rabbits now. It will be interesting to see how it stands the test of time I suppose. Elizabeth and her German Garden, I have been meaning to read it for ages and this copy was kindly sent to me by Kaggsy – and so having put into my summer pile, I took it to my second (as yet very small) book group and it was picked for our July read. The others were picked because they are all simply books I really want to read soon – and that I feel is good enough reason – although there are dozens more that fit that category. I love this challenge already as there are so many people joining in and I love seeing what everyone else is reading.

Are you joining #20booksforsummer? Or do reading challenges make you hide behind the sofa?

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It wouldn’t be the New Year without a few reading challenges doing the rounds, and I am embarking upon three!

theforsytesaga1Forsytesaga2theforsytesaga3The nine novels of The Forsyte Saga Chronicles is the first, Liz, Karen and I and possibly one or two others are doing this – there isn’t a hard and fast timetable, broadly one volume of three novels every four months. I have talked about this read-a-long before, and can now report that having finished the first novel and the interlude which comes after it – I am hooked. My first Forsyte review will be up in a day in a day or two.

 

 

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The second challenge is another Librarything Virago group read, the Virago group have had some superb year-long challenges in the past – and this is another! The Seven Ages of Women; books concerned with; childhood, coming of age, independence, marriage and relationships, motherhood, self-discovery and old age of women. I have created a new page on this blog, mainly for my own use, but you can find the wonderful list of books that have been chosenhere. The books on the list are mainly Virago or Persephone editions – unsurprisingly we are a Virago readers group, and there are some simply fantastic titles on the list.

The final challenge is one I am in great need of; #TBR20 was started by Eva Stalker over on Twitter. Basically you pledge to read twenty books from your tbr before buying another book. I have no intention of just reading the twenty books in my pile and nothing else – so I am hoping that by the time I have got to the bottom of my #TBR20 pile – I will have made a much bigger hole in my enormous tbr. Many of the books in my pile are ones I want to read soon, but generally I gathered a fairly random pile together without thinking too much about it. Another great thing about #TBR20 is you can join at any time, it doesn’t have to be January the 1st. Some people are already a few books into their piles, while I am reading my first, because I didn’t add the Forsyte Saga to the pile.
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thebooker2014The Booker Prize has been a source of fascination to me for a number of years, and I have enjoyed reading some of the nominated books each year and speculating on who would win. I don’t know why the Booker above all other prizes fascinated me so much (I do also enjoy the buzz that surrounds the Women’s Prize), but something about it captured my imagination.

This year was different however. First they changed the rules of writers eligible to win– and I couldn’t decide what I thought about that. Certainly I’m all for equality and opening things up to everyone – generally in life, but I felt like they had changed the Booker suddenly. I couldn’t explain why, but I didn’t like it. It’s like allowing American competitors to take part in the Commonwealth Games, the competition would fundamentally change. Then later when the long list was announced there was a lot of justifiable comment on social media about how few women were nominated, and the complicated submission rules. I think all the grumbling and controversy put me off the whole thing rather. Determined to take my usual interest (I don’t usually try to read the whole long or short list – but I generally read two or three) I downloaded to my kindle, The Blazing Word by Siri Hustvedt and We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler – two of the American authors long listed. I didn’t get on with Hustvedt at all- giving up at 18% and have yet to try the Karen Joy Fowler, of which I have heard mixed reports. After that I rather grumpily ignored the whole thing.

thenarrowroad tothe deepnorthOn the night the winner was announced I was watching the new series of The Apprentice, and not really thinking about the imminent announcement. Usually I would have watched/listened live if the announcement was being broadcast, and joined in the excited speculation on Twitter. As it happens just minutes after the announcement was made, I glanced at my Twitter feed and saw the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize was Richard Flanagan for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Something about that poetic title piqued my interest. I looked the book up, and downloaded it to my kindle  minutes later. Last year I read the Booker winner over half term, and I may do that this year though I am juggling a few review copies that I really need and want to read soon.

So it seems I have got over my little tantrum, and I may after all complete my Booker project which I began quite a number of years ago. The challenge: merely to read everything that had ever won. I still have several of the unread Booker winners on my TBR bookcase, but I don’t think I have read any Booker winning novels since I laid aside the glorious The Luminaries last October.

As well as this year’s winner – I still have these nine to read: four of which I have had on my shelves for a long time.

1994 – James Kelman, How Late It Was, How Late
1986 – Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils
1980 – William Golding, Rites of Passage
1976 – David Storey, Saville
1974 – Nadine Gordimer, The Conservationist
1974 – Stanley Middleton, Holiday (joint winners)
1972 – John Berger, G
1970 – Bernice Rubens, The Elected Member
1969 – P H Newby, Something to Answer For20141019_102143

Maybe I’ll do it one day, but some of those titles rather intimidate me. And still I can’t explain what it is about the booker that has interested for so long; I haven’t even liked all the books. Considering how many ‘old books’ I read the Booker shouldn’t be something that I’m all that bothered about, but it seems I am after all, not entirely cured of my fascination of the Booker Prize.

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20141010_175425There’s a small but growing group over on Facebook that I am very glad to be a member of – Undervalued Mid-20th Century British Women Writers – it does what it says on the tin really. Another place where I can celebrate the writers I love and find out about ones I have yet to read. Recently – Nick – who started the group suggested that we hold a group read in November. After some discussion we hit upon Elizabeth Bowen’s The Hotel – Bowen is an author many of us want to read more of, and The Hotel being her first novel it seemed a good place to start. Our read of The Hotel will begin on November 10th – and naturally anyone is welcome to join us. Elizabeth Bowen is probably not really undervalued – however she is exactly the kind of author members of the group love.

 

 

From the back cover:

These were the balmy days of the 1920s. The English, liberated from one long war and not yet faced with the next had – at least when well-off- a confident kind of vitality. The Hotel was a comfortable hotel on the Italian Riviera, run for prosperous English visitors. It was a closed world of wealth and a setting for the inexhaustible comedy of casual personal relationships among a variety of ‘nice’ people, all English, all wittily reflected with characteristic vivacity. Elizabeth Bowen’s wit, and her exact eye for social detail has often been compared to that of Jane Austen, and the similarity is perfectly captured in this, Elizabeth Bowen’s first novel.

I am looking forward to discussing the novel with the other group members, and of course I will review the novel here too.

 

That brings me onto my next reading challenge.

 

theforsytesaga1Forsytesaga2theforsytesaga3

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year I undertook two main reading challenges: The Great War theme read – with members of the Librarything Virago group ( I have run out of steam a bit, but intend to pick it up again next month) and the 12 novel sequence of Dance to the Music of Time. So having just finished book ten of that twelve I already have my sights set on a new challenge for next year. Karen (from Kaggsy’s bookish ramblings) and I have decided to read the entire nine novels that make up The Forsyte Saga Chronicles.

The Forsyte Saga complete nine novels are available in three volumes:

Volume 1

The Man of Property
In Chancery
To Let

Volume 2

The White Monkey
The Silver Spoon
Swan Song

Volume 3

Maid in Waiting
Flowering Wilderness
Over the River

I recklessly ordered the three volumes from ebay – and I am all set For January. I know January sounds like a long way off but time flies – and it will soon be here. If anyone would like to keep Karen and I company we would love you join us.
Oh and while I have your attention – don’t forget Willa Cather reading week December 7th – 14th – phew!

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